Q&A with Saanjana Kapoor

A square headshot of Saanjana Kapoor is set against a banner. The banner is a zoomed-in section of Maddison Henriks’s cover, which features stipple-shaded paper planes. Saanjana wears a black leather jacket with a light blue top beneath, and a silver chain with a small pendant. She has long dark, wavy-curly hair, and is smiling showing her teeth. To the right, on the banner, are the words, ‘interview with Saanjana Kapoor’. In the bottom right hand corner, in smaller font, are the words, ‘#31 subscribe’.

Saanjana Kapoor is a Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Melbourne. Her writing has been published in Voiceworks, Island, Cordite, and more. She is a recipient of a New Colombo Plan Scholarship by the Australian Government.

Hi Saanjana! I’m a huge fan of this poem. During the editing process, I especially enjoyed locating new and unexpected connections between ‘Celluloid Dreams’ and our issue’s theme, ‘SUBSCRIBE’. In just fifteen lines, ‘Celluloid Dreams’ takes the reader on a vivid, layered journey—from family, to film, to an exploration of gender roles, to the image of a ‘man who stretches his words like caramel toffee’ and back again. Could you tell us about the inspiration behind ‘Celluloid Dreams’ and its relationship to ‘SUBSCRIBE’?

Thank you! I was really excited when I heard about the theme SUBSCRIBE, making me think of the ubiquitous influence of pop culture in our lives, and the constant desire to be in the loop with everything new. The theme reminded me of how mundane moments and actions can instantly conjure particular pop culture references. This cascade of images, words, scenes, and songs obscures the boundaries between time and space, creating a spiral of memories and dreams that can transcend the specific locality of the individual. The cultural narratives we ‘subscribe’ to, perhaps consciously or unconsciously, can shape our sense of self, our connection to others, and our understanding and sense of belonging within the social world. 

In ‘Celluloid Dreams’, I wanted to explore how cinema can become an integral part of a family’s collective memory, and create ideals of romance, womanhood, and freedom. As the line between our reality and the media we consume becomes increasingly blurred, I was inspired to write about the interplay between the cinematic realm and personal memories. For the protagonist in the poem, a mother, cinema simultaneously acts as a touchstone for escapism, entertainment, and unity with the women in her family. I imagined her son returning to his motherland for the first time, and playing dress up in an old family home he never grew up in. In the opening image, her son unknowingly emulates the mannerisms and style of iconic Bollywood actors, sending the protagonist to fall through time, memories, dreams, and her family’s history. 

Last month I read an anthology of poems about film, so it felt serendipitous to come across ‘Celluloid Dreams’ in our submissions box—not only does the poem feature references to Bollywood actors, but your writing has a wonderfully cinematic feel. I’d love to know more about your creative influences—have film and other visual art forms always played a part in your writing practice?

Films, especially Bollywood films, are one of the earliest forms of storytelling I was introduced to. I grew up watching ’90s and early 2000s Bollywood movies obsessively, making references to them and quoting dialogues in everyday conversation. My younger self was completely enamoured with these films, emotionally invested in the characters, and absorbed in the story world. I have wanted to capture this nostalgic, dreamlike state through my writing.

In terms of other art forms, dance has had a more unconscious impact on my writing practice. In primary school, I started training in Bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance form. Bharatanatyam is often centred around using footwork, hand movements and facial expressions to convey a story, and the role of costumes, body language, rhythm, and movement is lurking in my mind while I write. 

What will you be working on next? And, to round out this cinematic Q&A, what are your top three favourite films?

Looking forward, I would love to work on more short fiction, especially as I generally write creative non-fiction and poetry. Choosing my favourite films will always be difficult, but three Bollywood movies I can probably re-watch endlessly are Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Rang De Basanti, and English Vinglish.